The trick is to begin with geography and see where it takes you

Friday, May 31st, 2024

Accidental Superpower by Peter ZeihanPeter Zeihan opens The Accidental Superpower with a story about his destiny:

I’ve always loved maps. My mom tells a story of how when I was five I unfolded a map of my home state of Iowa and started tracing roads away from my hometown, building up to the thickest, brightest line I could find and then connecting it to the next thickest, brightest line I could find until I had traced myself off the map’s edge. When I inquired what was on the other side of the Missouri River, my mom realized that I’d be leaving Iowa someday.


Geopolitics is the study of how place impacts… everything: the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the size and serviceability of your mortgage, how long you live, how many children you have, the stability of your job, the shape and feel of your country’s political system, what sorts of war your country wages or defends itself against, and ultimately whether your culture will withstand the test of time. The balance of rivers, mountains, oceans, plains, deserts, and jungles massively influences everything about both the human condition and national success.

Of course, you shouldn’t treat geography as deterministic. The Nazis loved geopolitics, but instead of using the study of geography to shape their policies, they used it to justify their ideology. They were hardly alone. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Europeans of all stripes used the subdiscipline of geographic determinism to assert their cultural and intellectual superiority over the rest of humanity. At one point, geographers as a whole realized that such concepts were, well, hugely racist and the study of political geography in most forms — particularly in the United States — was largely abandoned.

There is definitely a baby/bathwater issue here. There are good solid reasons as to why nearly every major expansionary power of the past has been based in a temperate climate zone, and why all those that have lasted have been riverine-based. This doesn’t make the people of these zones better or smarter. It simply means they have more and more sustainable resources, fewer barriers to economic development, and economic and military systems that allow for greater reach. The trick is to begin with geography and see where it takes you; don’t start with a theory and use geography to justify it.


My personal ideology is green and internationalist and libertarian, which means I’m an idealistic pragmatist who falls asleep during long meetings. Aside from a few snarky footnotes that bravely survived the editorial gauntlet, my ideology is not represented in this book. I have solar panels on my house, but I see a global future in which coal reigns supreme. I’m an unflinching supporter of free trade and the Western alliance network, seeing the pair as ushering in the greatest peace and prosperity this world has ever known. Yet geography tells me both will be abandoned. I prefer small government, believing that an unobtrusive system generates the broadest and fastest spread of wealth and liberty. But demography tells me an ever larger slice of my income will be taken to fund a system that is ever less dynamic and accountable.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    ”peace and prosperity”

    As usual, Zeihan gets everything wrong. There have been some 250 wars since 1945, as the US has started over 200 of them, and almost always against countries that were at peace with the US and its allies. The US is also the country that works hardest against free trade.

    The recent spate of shame Stalinist show trials should also dispel any fantasy that the US is a country of laws.

  2. Jim says:

    The United States: of the criminal lawyers, by the criminal lawyers, for the criminal lawyers.

  3. Dan Kurt says:

    I have read four of his books and follow him on YouTube. I have come to the conclusion that he is a mile wide and an inch deep. He also is a flaming Liberal Trump hater. He entertains but I doubt how prescient he actually is at predicting the future.

  4. Bomag says:

    ”As usual, Zeihan gets everything wrong.”

    He makes up for it by being a fun listen.

    Nice of him to consider demography. Ballistically funny to watch him squirm when asked why Africa isn’t an economic powerhouse if (according to him) young people are the ones driving economic growth. Something about Af. going through the demographic transitions so fast that they skipped over the part where young people drive growth.

  5. Roo_ster says:

    PZ is the re-masticator of CIA/FBI/managerial class assumptions into a more-easily digested paste for lower-tier managerial class functionaries.

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